Summary: Is there more than merely an appearance of Christianity about us? Is there real substance to our lives as believers? Is there real fruitfulness for Jesus Christ?
Fig Trees And Phonies
11 Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late.
12 On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry.
13 Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.
14 He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening.
Jesus Drives Money Changers from the Temple
15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who were buying and selling in the temple, and overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves;
16 and He would not permit anyone to carry merchandise through the temple.
17 And He began to teach and say to them, “Is it not written, ‘MY HOUSE SHALL BE CALLED A HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL THE NATIONS’? But you have made it a ROBBERS’ DEN.”
18 The chief priests and the scribes heard this, and began seeking how to destroy Him; for they were afraid of Him, for the whole crowd was astonished at His teaching.
19 When evening came, they would go out of the city.
20 As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.
21 Being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”
22 And Jesus answered saying to them, “Have faith in God.
23 “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.
24 “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.
25 “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.
26 [“But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.”]
In the film The Matrix, we are taken to the year 2199. The world has been taken over and is being run by AI: artificial intelligence. Harvested humans live in a computer generated dream world of artificial reality, never understanding that they are captives of an evil empire. But there are a few people still connected enough to reality who discover the Matrix. What they see is that there are two worlds now. One is evil, and it depends on control and deception. It is an unreal world. The other is the real world, even though it would not be seen as such by those caught up in the Matrix. There is a great deal of religious symbolism in the film, and it picks up on the biblical theme of the kingdom of God and its opposition to the kingdom of evil. In the movie, Morpheus tries to explain the Matrix and says to Neo: “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world and the real world?”
In the same way, we live in the real world while so many around us are living in a world of deception. Unable to wake from the dream, they only know what they see. They have never known anything different. Our responsibility is to never forget which is the real world and which is fantasy. We are also responsible for rescuing as many as possible of those who are trapped in the Matrix. We live in parallel kingdoms — the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world — and the reality is that we are in one or the other, there is nothing in between. The wheat and weeds are growing together, and will be together, until the end when the chaff is gathered to be burned, and the wheat is gathered into the Father’s barn (Matthew 13:30). Appearances can be deceiving.
Our day is no different from Jesus' day. In Jesus' time, the religious establishment had become no more than a shadow of what used to be the reality of a life with God. Now it was devoid of power. It had become barren and without fruit. It only appeared to live externally. Through ceremony and pomp and outward show, it still gave the appearance of true faith. But inside, there was nothing real. Our text today is the account of Jesus confronting that religious establishment and judging it for what it was. We see Jesus cursing a fig tree and cleansing the Temple because of fruitlessness and phony appearances. He came to a place where faith should have been found, and found instead lifeless ritual, devoid of God's power. They were just going through the motions.